An Interview with Lucas Zanatto, “Featuring Drones” Category Winner at the New York City Drone Film Festival
BY Zacc Dukowitz6 April 2017
Lucas Zanatto‘s “Drone Cake Baking” video (shown above) won the Featuring Drones category at the New York City Drone Film Festival, and he was kind enough to grant us an interview following the festival. To create the video he worked with Tilt to manage flying and aerial shots, and both Animasjonsdepartementet (or A-dep) and DDB Oslo assisted with production.
Lucas is an amazingly talented guy. He is a designer, animator, and director based out of Helsinki. Although his work is done in a variety of mediums, from film to still photography to a series of apps for children, he manages to keep a similar whimsical tone throughout everything he does.
In addition to winning at the NYCDFF this year, Lucas has won the Golden Lion in Cannes, Gold at BDA Promax International, Main Price at ITFS, Best Promotional Animation at Ottawa Animation Festival, and the YCN Professional Award.
Follow Lucas @lucas_zanotto.
The artist at work
UAV Coach: You’ve won a lot of awards for your work (we’ve listed some of them above). What have been some of your favorite projects, and why?
Lucas Zanatto: I enjoy pretty much all of the jobs I do. You get into the mood, and you think of your idea, and suddenly things start coming together, and that’s always quite satisfying.
Two projects I really enjoyed doing were a short film I made for Google, and another one I did for Amazon. I group these two together because they’re both very simple and graphics-based, but they’re also both hand-made.
When you start crafting things by hand to make videos like these, you start having little imperfections, little mistakes. And it’s these analog things that you can’t control that I always enjoy a lot.
This analog or imperfect aspect comes up in all the work I do, but especially in those two videos for Google and Amazon. I love that they’re supposed to be super slick, super perfect, but in fact they’re not because of these little mistakes, and that gives them a certain charm.
Here are the two videos Lucas is talking about:
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Video
I’m also really proud of the apps I’ve been creating for children under the brand YATATOY. We created YATATOY all ourselves, and we have full creative control since we’re selling the app directly through the app store. We don’t have a third party telling us what to do creatively, and I can create the brand however I want. If I want to change the color of the logo tomorrow, I can do it, and that is just amazing.
I’m proud of YATATOY because it’s high quality content for kids, and I want to give kids something with a lot of heart, passion, and quality.
The Drawnimal app from YATATOY
Something else I really enjoyed doing was creating the opening video for the Pictoplasma Festival in 2015. I have a side project where I put paper plates onto stones and other things to create faces, and the video is all time lapse footage taken over a whole day at this amazing spot in Seaside on the southeast of Finland.
It took fourteen hours to make these time lapses. It was very Zen just to be there waiting with the camera and no one around, enjoying the quietness and the peacefulness, and then being able to create a film out of the experience.
Thinking back now, I would like to have done that film with drones. It would have been nice to have some aerial shots of the stones with the paper plate eyes on them. Maybe next time…
Pictoplasma Festival 2015 Opener
UAV Coach: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in creating the “Drone Cake Baking” video? Did anything unexpected arise?
Lucas Zanatto: The big challenge was that the drones can only be controlled within a certain range. If you’re trying to pick up a tiny hook with a drone, it’s quite tricky to get it, and requires a lot of pilot skills. Fortunately the Tilt team was very skilled at flying, and they were able to pull that off.
Another thing that was challenging was attaching things to the drones, since of course that effects the equilibrium of the drone. When you start hanging something from a drone, the motors get really hot because they’re constantly working to balance the drone out.
We also had a challenge on set with the blowback from the drone rotors. We had a white background for shooting, like you’d use in a photo shoot, and every time a drone flew near it the paper would start flying around.
To fix the problem we attached the paper a little bit in the back, but we also just let it happen. We figured the wind from the drone was part of what was happening, so we just let it stay and add to some of the chaos of drones trying to make a cake.
UAV Coach: Someone from the Tilt team told us at the NYCDFF that Telia originally wanted the drones to move in straight, robotic lines for the video. How did you convince them to change their mind, and how do you manage clients so that your vision aligns with theirs?
Lucas Zanatto: The original idea was to program the drones so they would do everything themselves. They wanted to press a button and everything would happen from there, everything planned out. They had seen a video with drones balancing and throwing sticks back and forth, and that was their initial reference point for this idea.
But realistically it would have taken half a year to program the drones and get it all working robotically like they were describing.
Once we showed them how long it would actually take, it was pretty easy to convince them to let the Tilt pilots fly the drones instead, which I think in the end was more fun. It makes the video more chaotic, more wild, and it just has more charm in it.
UAV Coach: Before Telia asked for this video to be made, had you ever worked with drones as a director? If so, how, and if not, what was your first experience working with drones like?
Lucas Zanatto: No, this was my first project I ever did with drones. Before this I didn’t know anything about drones.
It was definitely a good experience. We all did a second video where we decorated a Christmas tree with drones. Creating that one was a lot smoother than the first one, and I could see doing more project with drones in the future.
UAV Coach: You’ve been successful in a number of mediums (we love the new YATATOY Loopimal app!), and you manage to impart an endearing whimsicality in all of the work you do. How do you achieve this consistent tone when you work as a director, given how many factors are involved in making a video? Do you see your artistic voice and tone come across more in post-production, as you’re filming and directing, or both?
Lucas Zanatto: When I start a project I try to build myself a certain concept for it, and define certain rules for the project.
This is part of why I like commercial work, because they give you certain limits, like only working with a certain color palette, or in a defined context. Also you’re restricted budget-wise, so you have to find creative solutions within those restrictions.
A certain style and look comes in through the solutions you find to address the various limitations set up by the company you’re working with, or even by myself if I’m working on my own project. I really enjoy problem-solving like this.
I also trying to set up some kind of aesthetic concept for each project at the beginning, in order to provide a clear stylistic boundary for the project. I generally like including some kind of analog element, and I also like mixing medias. As I said before about the videos I did for Google and Amazon, I like when there are little mistakes in the work.
I have a certain style, maybe it’s a child in me—I like things to be playful, a little bit silly. That’s the stuff I enjoy. Ever since I was a kid I liked to build little weird things, and that has really stuck with me as a director and creator.
But I wouldn’t divide this aesthetic up as something that appears either only in post-production or only while filming. It’s really a combination.
Lately I’m trying to do more while filming rather than in post. I like when you have such a simple but good idea that you can do it with just the camera, even if it’s just a bouncing ball on a white background. You film it and you grade it, and it’s done. If I have to start masking out or editing other stuff and adding lots of post-production, then I start not enjoying the work so much. I prefer it to be more honest than that.
Of course, animation is a completely different thing, which I also really enjoy doing.
This video displays Lucas’ Loopimal app, which we mention in the question above
UAV Coach: Do you have any thoughts on how drones might change cinematography, or any predictions for the future related to the use of drones in making videos?
Lucas Zanatto: I think drones will change a lot in general, not just in cinematography.
From consumers to pros, people are using drones more and more. They’re affordable now, the quality is good, and they’re not overly difficult to fly, which I think means a lot more people will be flying them.
I don’t know if you remember, but when the first DSLRs (Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras) came out, suddenly everyone had these lenses with blurry depths of fields and backgrounds, and suddenly everything looked movie-like. Suddenly every documentary or short film, everything you saw, had a certain cinematic look.
And I think the same thing will happen with drones. Previously you had to use a helicopter or a crane to achieve an aerial shot, but now you can use a drone. I think drones are going to have a huge impact on how we make videos and movies.
Here is a look behind the scenes of the making of the “Drone Cake Baking” video: